Lisa Whelchel didn't take home the $1 million prize on Survivor, but the Fort Worth native says she still feels like a winner.
"I'm so thrilled," she says after placing in the final three last Sunday and receiving "Player of the Season" honors in online fan voting. "I'm overwhelmed with gratitude." Being the Player of the Season was a nice consolation prize for Whelchel -- and not just because it meant pocketing $100,000.
"It's a huge honor," the former TV teen star says. "America likes me. But it's different from when I played a role on The Facts of Life. On Survivor, viewers liked me as me." Now Whelchel, 49, is poised to make the most of her renewed fame. She plans to move from Flower Mound, her home for the past nine years, back to Los Angeles to resume her acting career, hopefully in a sitcom. Also, this week, she co-hosts episodes of The Jeff Probst Show that will air in January. "I couldn't be more excited," she says.
1 Have you been replaying everything in your head, wondering if a different strategy could have meant winning the whole shebang?
Only every dream every night. I'll be glad when the mind chatter shuts up, so I can move on. If the only goal was winning the million dollars, there are many decisions that I should have made differently. But what I learned and how I grew was worth more than the million dollars. And that's not a beauty-pageant answer. I would have liked to have had both. If I had to choose, it was worth more to grow inside. So no regrets.
2 You've been a Survivor fan since the beginning, which makes you something of an expert. How does your season rank among the best seasons ever? Or are you too close to judge?
I can be pretty objective. It's being touted as being in the top 10. Many say it's in the top five. I think I agree. There were ups and downs, heroes and villains, surprises, great characters, a beautiful setting, and terrible weather -- all of the things you need for a great season of Survivor.
3 How much weight did you lose during those grueling 39 days in the Philippines?
Seven pounds. Which somehow doesn't seem fair. You go 39 days without eating hardly anything but rice and beans and you only lose seven pounds! I'm going to have to take that up with God someday on why the discrepancy between men's and women's metabolisms. Because Mike Skupin lost 40 pounds and we were on the same diet. And then I gained it all back in a week as soon as I got home.
4 Were you surprised that so few fellow castaways recognized you as Blair from The Facts of Life?
A little bit. Denise Staley [the winner] knew from the beginning. She's the one who told Jonathan Penner, who recognized me but couldn't pinpoint from where. I figured all it would take was one person over the age of 30 to recognize me and tell everyone else. So it was a blessing to play the whole game as myself.
5 With none of Blair's baggage?
Exactly. And Blair would have a lot of baggage. And it would be designer baggage.